The Hater's Guide To Notre Dame Football
First of all, your hate is justified. Even if you can't quite name it, even if you don't fully understand why, even if it's just a vibe or a bone-deep, visceral tensing in your stomach and wrinkling of your nose, you're justified. Drive from SEC country—where actual college football is played—taking that straight line of two-lane I-65 flatlands with nothing to see but occasional windmills and farming equipment. At the end of that drive, you could take a turn on I-90 and head to the promised land of Chicago. Or you could languish in the armpit of the Midwest: South Bend, Indiana. A city of industrial decay, one decent coffee shop, and Notre Dame football.
Notre Dame's Phony “Independence”
As was determined by arcane wizards reading mystic runes sometime around the landing on Plymouth Rock, college football in the US is divided into conferences. The short reason for this is scheduling: your school HAS to play a certain amount of a certain group of schools every year. Conferences are loosely rooted in regions, like the Southeastern Conference or Atlantic Coast Conference (the latter of which Notre Dame is always flirting with). Some conferences are a super big deal, some aren't, and they all come with a set of derogatory/celebratory stereotypes. You WILL be asked about what conference your school is in at a job interview. Marking your territory with a college conference is more important than understanding colonialism if you want to become a United States citizen. The state of Florida makes you swear a blood oath to one if you move there, and whichever you pick determines if you live in Gainesville or Tallahassee.
Not Notre Dame, though. ND is the biggest of a few schools that are “independent,” which basically means they coast off of legacy to fill their schedule. Most teams have one or two “rival” games, Notre Dame has roughly 700 rival games. Conferences also mean TV money, so you'd think not being in a conference would put a be a financial body blow to the Fighting Irish, but no: Notre Dame has a deal worked out with NBC. The network actually has a Notre Dame Football on NBC program. The relationship is so cozy ND's head coach once called NBC and made them adjust TV timeouts to better fit Notre Dame's offense. As Bomani Jones puts it, Notre Dame's independence is just an excuse for them to act like a partner with a wandering eye.
Just So Many Irritating Traditions
Both college football and legacy private schools have customs and traditions that are fun for their fans and irritating to their haters. It's part of the fun, part of what separates fans into their little factions that go to play-pretend war every Saturday. But Jesus Horton Christ, Notre Dame literally has a Touchdown Jesus. The joke about every football player thanking God as if God had nothing better to do on the OG Sabbath than meddle in football games has been done to death, but what else are we supposed to say here? Notre Dame bypassed the Pope and went straight to claiming that Christ Himself was their football Messiah.
Besides that, there's Rudy, which in reality was just the team making fun of Rudy. Not so heartwarming now, huh? Then there's “win one for the Gipper,” which ugh. Gross. Anything associated with Ronald Reagan—Huey Freeman was right. And don't get us started about their cult-like alma mater. A bunch of students at an explicitly religious school locking arms and signing about their holy university would merit its own Netflix documentary at best or be put on a government watch list at worst if it was anything other than a Catholic institution. Every school has a fight song, but not many lyrics make us itchy like Notre Dame's does.
A Brief Note On Irish-Americanness
Listen, Irish people: first and foremost, we love you. Cracked supported Home Rule (citation needed) and we didn't even exist yet! We're the website that told you Samuel Beckett and Andre the Giant were homies. We think the way you avoided Nazi bombing was inventive as well as practical. This isn't about you, the free Republic of Ireland. But Irish-Americans, we need to talk.
Y'all know there's more to your heritage than green beer and imagining you were once exactly as oppressed as Black people, right? Your immigrant story went from oppressed to “considered white in America now” REAL quick. Here's a History dot com article literally titled “How Stereotypes of The Irish Evolved From ‘Criminals’ to Cops.” That's not a trajectory that maintains your cool. It's certainly not a trajectory that allows you to bring up past oppression any time you act racist. Don't even get us started on utterly embarrassing things like Chi-rish, a marketing trick to get you drinking beer that tastes like cultural assimilation. You, members of the Irish diaspora in the United States, have so much more to offer than crude drunken fighting stereotypes. Your folklore is so much more interesting than Hornswoggle. There's a whole movement in the homeland to learn Irish as a language. Maybe try that as a cultural import.
Notre Dame Once Kicked Out An Antifascist (Who Invented Dropkicks)
Let's say we told you a story. A story about a war hero in World War II—the war we've all agreed was a good one to fight. This hero was on the right side, too: the antifascist side. This hero was hand-picked by the US Office Strategic Service to go to Italy six months before the invasion because he spoke fluent Italian and knew every dialect. His final mission was a race to track down Italian scientist Carlo Calosi before the Nazis could get to him. This hero also happened to have a career in pro wrestling, where he invented the dropkick. That's not related to WWII heroism, it's just rad enough to be worth including.
Our hero's name was Joe Saldovi, and Notre Dame kicked him out of their school. Joe (born Guiseppe) was super good at football, and had led ND to a national championship. He was “built like a gorilla and moved like a leopard.” So why was he kicked out? He had gotten married to a high school girl in secret and filed for divorce. Okay, that whole “married to a high school girl” is very not good. Why would a Catholic institution be mad at a child bride, you might be asking. Well, any student marriage was against school rules at the time. So they kicked out Joe. Notre Dame kicked out an antifascist football hero who later invented a cool pro wrestling move because he was married.
Notre Dame Hasn't Actually Been Good For A Long Time
For a place that loves talking about tradition, Notre Dame can't be thrilled about their last few decades. Their last national championship was in 1988. That's well before most college football players were born. Their tradition for as long as most people reading this have been alive is being the worst team in the playoffs and getting whomped in bowl games. If you enjoy watching those sign-slappers preen around like their farts are honeysuckles only to be embarrassed in the most spectacularly public way possible, it's been a good few years for you.
So how's the future look? They started this season ranked #5 and a few weeks later failed to get a single AP vote. They barely have a quarterback right now. Actually, it's probably not a bad time for a hater to follow them closely. Their fans seem like they have some hope at respectability, but spectacular embarrassment seems mostly likely. And what's Sports Hate without a healthy heaping of schadenfreude? Don't hold us to this prediction, though. We're not basing this off of data or knowledge—just an understanding of Notre Dame's (21st century) tradition. Enjoy that one decent coffee shop, though.
Chris Corlew is an alumnus (and dropout) of a different private Catholic university. It did not have a football team. Find him on Twitter.